While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact society, a focus on shorter formats of golf could help countries encourage new players and meet the demand of those eager to return to the fairways – all when it is safe to do so.
Over recent months during their summer season, participation initiatives have helped drive a rise in both nine-hole golf in Australia and New Zealand.
Both countries are reflecting on an increase in the number of nine-hole rounds played as they promote shorter formats to entice new players into the sport and give more opportunities for existing golfers short on time.
Play 9 championship
Their work has been aided by running activity to support The R&A 9 Hole Challenge Final, an event that takes place on the eve of The Open – but cancelled this year due to COVID-19.
After an inaugural event in 2017, Golf Australia’s Play 9 championship was staged for a third time last year – aided by support from The R&A – and proved a huge success.
The focus was on mass participation, with Golf Australia’s aim to work with as many clubs and facilities across the country as possible in order to promote Play 9 and nine-hole golf, notably encouraging clubs to offer more nine-hole competitions to members to demonstrate golf can be a flexible and quick lifestyle option.
Golf Australia also sought to promote nine-hole golf as a legitimate form of competition for handicapping purposes, given the growth opportunities of this format at club level.
The results proved impressive with 190,315 qualifying rounds taking place in 2019/20, involving 36,288 individual golfers from 903 clubs. This is a healthy increase from 2018/19 when there were 130,543 qualifying rounds, with 28,627 golfers competing from 655 clubs.
In December last year, a group of 28 club golfers from each state in Australia played in the Play 9 final staged during the 2019 Emirates Australian Open, an Open Qualifying Series event, at The Australian Golf Club in Sydney.
Ian Armer Jnr, from Finley Golf Club in New South Wales, and Chelsea Murkins, from Windaroo Lakes Golf Club in Queensland, emerged as the winners.
David Gallichio, General Manager – Golf Development at Golf Australia, said, “Play 9 has been one of the success stories of 2018 and 2019 and the increase in nine-hole competition rounds by Australian club members is incredibly pleasing. To say it has resonated across the country would be an understatement.
“Golf Australia will continue to promote nine-hole golf for competition and handicapping purposes heavily in the years to come as we believe it is an inbuilt short form of the game that is often overlooked – by existing and new golfers alike. Play 9 will remain a key participation focus of Golf Australia in the foreseeable future and we again thank The R&A for its support in the initial launch and subsequent growth of the initiative.”
Encouraging nine-hole play
New Zealand Golf also ran a Make Time, Play 9 programme from October last year, encouraging golfers to compete in nine-hole events at club level. Their final took place during the New Zealand Open at Millbrook Resort in Queenstown at the end of February, with Brent Holmes, from Mt Maunganui Golf Club in Tauranga, and Troy Bygrave, from Muriwai Golf Club in Muriwai, securing success.
Like their counterparts in Australia, New Zealand has also experienced a rise in nine-hole golf through the Play 9 activity. Total Play 9 rounds played for October – February 2019/20 were an impressive 239,175, an improvement on 207,168 in 2018/19.
In total, 28,715 individual golfers completed qualifying rounds in 2019/20, 41% of whom were female. Last November saw a total of 51,186 qualifying round entries; the first time over 50,000 nine-hole rounds have been played in New Zealand in one month.
Dean Murphy, Chief Executive at New Zealand Golf, said, “The playing of nine-hole golf has been popular in New Zealand for many years. However, we are now seeing continued growth in both the number of golfers playing nine holes and the number of nine-hole rounds played. We believe nine-hole golf provides an excellent antidote to a time pressured world so we’re encouraging people to make time for a healthy, flexible and quick format of the game.
“For New Zealand Golf, being part of The R&A 9 Hole Challenge has helped us inspire a more than 20% growth in nine-hole rounds played. We are convinced the nine-hole format will be a significant part of the future of golf and are delighted to be a part of the initiative.”
Duncan Weir, Executive Director – Golf Development and Amateur Championships at The R&A, added, “We are delighted with the results achieved in Australia and New Zealand through their nine-hole initiatives and thank both national governing bodies for their support.
“It is great to see nine-hole play is increasing in popularity in both countries and, therefore, being enjoyed by more players.”
The R&A 9 Hole Challenge, which has been running annually since an initial pilot in 2016, is central to the organisation’s wider drive to promote shorter forms of golf as an ideal way to enjoy playing the sport in less time, either recreationally or competitively for handicap purposes.